SACRAMENTO -- Powerful voices in California's water wars pledged their support Tuesday for a $7 billion state water bond that lawmakers must pass before Wednesday's midnight deadline if they hope to see it on the November ballot.
The California Farm Bureau Federation and Los Angeles County's Metropolitan Water District had hoped for at least $3 billion in the bond for construction of dams, reservoirs and other storage projects.
But with time running out, they called on lawmakers from both parties to support a package crafted over the weekend by Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders with $2.5 billion for water storage.
"With California experiencing an unprecedented drought on the heels of two dry years, the most important issue on the November ballot is the passage of a water bond," said Paul Wenger, president of the Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm association, whose members have been crippled by the lengthening drought.
Some business and water district leaders saw the bond proposal as a "workable framework" that respects the state's fiscal limitations while acknowledging the need for an array of water projects, including groundwater cleanup and river habitat restoration.
Wenger compared Brown's commitment to increasing the state's water storage capacity to that of his father, former Gov. Pat Brown, who built the enormous network of dams, reservoirs and canals in the 1960s that the state depends on today to move water from north to south.
"It is an absolute necessity that the greatest single component of this bond be dedicated to water storage, something that has been sorely absent in the last five water bonds that have been passed by voters since 1996," Wenger said. "We applaud Gov. Brown."
Still, if Brown and his Democratic allies hope to meet the deadline to replace the bloated, unpopular water bond originally scheduled for the November ballot, they must work feverishly over the next 24 hours to address lingering concerns that threaten to scuttle a deal, Capitol observers say.
Senate Republicans and Central Valley Democrats want more money dedicated to water storage projects, while legislators who represent towns near the San Joaquin River Delta are seeking stronger safeguards to block bond money from being spent on Brown's controversial plan to build twin tunnels beneath the Delta to siphon water south.
Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, is actively negotiating with Brown for more than $2.5 billion for water storage. Even a little more will be essential to "landing this plane," he said.
"This is a good first step, but we'll need to do a little better than that to get Central Valley support for this bond," Perea said. "It's a concern I have that others from the region, both Democrats and Republicans, share."
Splitting from the Farm Bureau's position, some agricultural groups, including ones that represent citrus, rice and table grape growers, are also pressing for more water storage funding.
"Where we differ from some of our colleagues in agriculture," said Joel Nelson, president of California Citrus Mutual, "is that they're willing to take a chance.
"We want more guarantees that we're going to create more water and make it available to those tho need it."